Saturday, December 28, 2013

Retro Saturday: Launch Windows for Lunar Landing

Click the arrow to watch the film on YouTube.

This week's Retro Saturday film is a NASA documentary titled, Launch Windows for Lunar Landing. Produced in 1967, it explains how to calculate ... well, read the title.

After you watch this 19½ minute film, I guarantee you'll hear the world “antipode” in your head for the rest of the day.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Right Side of History

Florida Today published this morning my guest column about NASA now being on the right course with its NewSpace partnerships.

Click here to read the column as published.

Below is the column as originally submitted, basically the same.

By Stephen C. Smith

What do Ronald Reagan, the two Presidents Bush and Barack Obama have in common?

They all directed NASA to commercialize access to space.

On December 13, 2013, NASA announced the agency had selected SpaceX to negotiate a lease for Kennedy Space Center’s historic launch pad 39A.

The decision fulfilled a thirty-year vision to end a government space monopoly replete with taxpayer-funded delays, overruns and inefficiences.

In 1984, the National Aeronautics and Space Act was amended to open space for the first time to the private sector:

The Congress declares that the general welfare of the United States requires that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration … seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.

Another amendment in 1991 required the NASA Administrator to “encourage and provide for Federal Government use of commercially provided space services and hardware.”

After the Columbia accident, President George W. Bush announced on January 14, 2004 that the Space Shuttle would fly again only to complete the International Space Station, and then retire. He appointed a commission to recommend how to implement his Vision for Space Exploration, which featured a new government space vehicle program called Constellation.

The commission’s June 2004 report included a chapter titled, “Building a Robust Space Industry.” The report called for “the breaking down of barriers to commercial and entrepreneurial activities in space, as well as a cultural shift towards encouraging and incentivizing more private sector business in space.”

In November 2005, NASA opened its Commercial Crew/Cargo Project Office. Administrator Michael Griffin approached entrepreneurs Elon Musk, Burt Rutan, Robert Bigelow and others, asking them to invest in what some today call “NewSpace.” Musk’s SpaceX signed its first NASA commercial cargo contract in 2006, and Orbital Sciences in 2008.

The government Constellation program, meanwhile, fell years behind schedule and went billions over budget as had the Shuttle and ISS before it.

In 2009, an independent commission appointed by President Obama found that Constellation was not sustainable. The administration recommended in 2010 that Constellation be cancelled, and proposed funding a crew version of the commercial cargo program.

As 2013 ends, SpaceX and Orbital deliver cargo affordably to the ISS, flying robotic ships that don’t risk lives to pilot them. Three commercial companies are developing 21st Century spacecraft capable of delivering seven astronauts to the ISS or private space stations, such as the Bigelow Aerospace inflatable habitats now under construction.

Treatments developed in microgravity for Hepatitis-C and osteoporosis are now on the market. Here in Florida, the Jacksonville Mayo Clinic announced December 18 it will send human cells to the ISS to research a potential treatment for stroke patients. A Boca Raton company, Zero Gravity Solutions, is developing plant nutrition products derived from ISS research.

The Gold Rush is on. The gold is microgravity.

NewSpace now has ventures beyond NASA, such as suborbital adventure tourism and asteroid mining. A commercial lunar company, Golden Spike, is led by former NASA executives. Apollo-era astronaut Jim Lovell recently joined their Board of Advisors.

NewSpace works best when NASA acts as an advisor or partner, freeing the private sector to innovate. Within a decade, we may see a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launch a commercial lunar mission from pad 39A — long before Constellation’s lunar timeline.

NASA is finally on the right side of history.

Stephen C. Smith is a member of the Florida Space Development Council chapter of the National Space Society, and The Planetary Society. He is the author of the blog.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Stocking Stuffer

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube. Video source: SpaceX.

A holiday stocking stuffer for you ... March 21, 2007. SpaceX launches its second Falcon 1 test flight from Kwajelein Atoll.

The first Falcon 1 test was March 24, 2006. The engine failed 25 seconds after launch.

It took SpaceX a year to build up to their second test, which is the above video. The vehicle successfully launched and achieved second stage separation. The second stage engine shut down at 7 minutes 30 seconds into the flight. The test was considered a partial success.

Earlier this month, NASA entered into negotiations to lease Kennedy Space Center's historic Pad 39A to SpaceX. They grow up so fast.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Retro Saturday

Click the arrow to watch the 1980 documentary “Space Shuttle Missions and Payloads” on YouTube.

I'm starting a new weekly feature titled “Retro Saturday.” The idea is to post old documentary films and videos from sometime in the era of spaceflight.

You may find these very boring or very cool. If you're reading a space blog, it's probably the latter.

We begin with Space Shuttle Missions and Payloads, a 13½ minute NASA feature released a year before the first Shuttle flight. It features the prototype orbiter Enterprise.

In future weeks, search the label "Retro Saturday" to find past editions.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Extra on the Mayo

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube an interview with Dr. Abba Zubair of the Mayo Clinic.

A press release posted yesterday by the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville illustrates yet another reason why microgravity research has so much potential for the medical sciences — and why Space Coast-based CASIS is leading the way.

Abba Zubair, M.D., Ph.D, believes that cells grown in the International Space Station (ISS) could help patients recover from a stroke, and that it may even be possible to generate human tissues and organs in space. He just needs a chance to demonstrate the possibility.

He now has it. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), a nonprofit organization that promotes research aboard the ISS, has awarded Dr. Zubair a $300,000 grant to send human stem cells into space to see if they grow more rapidly than stem cells grown on Earth.

Dr. Zubair, medical and scientific director of the Cell Therapy Laboratory at Mayo Clinic in Florida, says the experiment will be the first one Mayo Clinic has conducted in space and the first to use these human stem cells, which are found in bone marrow.

“On Earth, we face many challenges in trying to grow enough stem cells to treat patients,” he says. “It now takes a month to generate enough cells for a few patients. A clinical-grade laboratory in space could provide the answer we all have been seeking for regenerative medicine.”

The article concludes:

“I don't really think growing cells in space for clinical use on Earth is science fiction,” he says. “Commercial flights to the ISS will start soon, and the cost of traveling there is coming down. We just need to show what can be achieved in space, and this award from CASIS helps us do that.”

Elsewhere in the world of CASIS, a press release today announced “a partnership with Angelus Funding to identify and possibly fund new and intriguing start-up commercial projects destined for the International Space Station (ISS) that are capable of benefitting life on Earth.”

This partnership leverages Angelus Funding’s considerable access to capital and collection of professionals capable of identifying opportunistic commercial projects that result from the unique environment provided on the ISS National Lab. Angelus Funding will then present these opportunities to its members for potential investment. CASIS itself will receive no investment but acts as a conduit for bringing together Angelus Funding and potential candidates for funding.

I've said many times that microgravity is the next Gold Rush. The gold-seekers are lining up for the promised land.

NASA Plods Along Despite Congress

Congress finally passed a government spending plan yesterday, but it's not the same thing as a budget and it's not the same thing as appropriating dollars.

This morning's Florida Today has an analysis that includes several paragraphs on how the bill affects NASA.

It's not clear how the reduced cuts will affect Florida until the House and Senate Appropriations Committees work out details early next year. But the extra money is expected to sidestep some of the most draconian budget scenarios federal agencies were facing.

NASA, for example, received almost $16.9 billion in fiscal 2013 — nearly $1 billion less than it received in fiscal 2012 because of sequestration. Before the latest budget deal, the House Appropriations Committee had approved a budget of $16.6 billion in fiscal 2014 for the space agency.

The deal the Senate approved Wednesday likely will bring that number up. But it appears unlikely NASA's final budget will reach Obama's $17.7 billion request or the Senate-approved number of $18 billion.

Authorization and appropriation are two different aspects of the federal budget process. Neither has happened yet for Fiscal Year 2014, which began October 1.

Authorization tells NASA what it's allowed to do, and sets spending targets for specific programs. Appropriation is the actual money Congress decides to give an agency, so authorization really doesn't mean much.

The critical commercial crew program awaits reconciliation between the House and Senate versions. Over the last three fiscal years, Congress cut the Obama administration's commercial crew funding requests by 62%. For Fiscal Year 2014, the administration requested $821 million, the House appropriations bill offers $500 million and the Senate $775 million. The House amount would likely extend U.S. reliance on the Russian Soyuz through at least 2018.

The administration's Asteroid Initiative also hangs in the balance. The House authorization bill prohibits it. The Senate version lets NASA decide what's best for NASA.

With Congress having adjourned until January, no reconciliation between the various versions is likely any time soon. Another debt ceiling battle is on the horizon, so NASA and the rest of the federal government will plod along without any consensus, direction or leadership from Congress.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Upon Further Review ...

Orbital-1 rolls out to Pad 0A December 17 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. Image source: NASA.

A problem with an ammonia pump valve outside the International Space Station will force NASA to postpone the first official Orbital Sciences cargo delivery from December 19 to at least mid-January.

Three spacewalks are planned for December 21, 23 and 25 to resolve the problem.

Here is the official NASA press release:

NASA managers are postponing the upcoming Orbital Sciences commercial cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station to proceed with a series of spacewalks to replace a faulty pump module on the space station.

NASA Television will air a news briefing at 3 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Dec. 18 to preview the spacewalks.

Orbital Sciences' Cygnus spacecraft, atop its Antares rocket, now will launch no earlier than mid-January. The postponement of the Antares launch will allow ample time for the station crew to focus on repairing a faulty pump module that stopped working properly on Dec. 11.

NASA currently plans for two Expedition 38 astronauts to venture outside the space station Dec. 21, 23 and 25. NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins will remove a pump module that has a failed valve. They will replace it with an existing spare that is stored on an external stowage platform. The pump is associated with one of the station's two external cooling loops, which circulate ammonia outside the station to keep both internal and external equipment cool. Each of the three spacewalks will begin at 7:10 a.m. and is scheduled to last six and a half hours. NASA TV coverage will begin at 6:15 a.m.

According to an Orbital press release, the earliest launch date for Orbital-1 will now be January 13, 2014.

Postponing Cygnus by a month might also push back the next SpaceX Dragon delivery to the ISS, currently scheduled for the end of February.

It's important to keep in mind that unscheduled repairs like this are part of humanity learning how to maintain a permanent foothold in space. Sometime in the 21st Century, it's likely that human outposts will be deployed beyond Earth orbit. Incidents like this will become a regular part of life for their inhabitants. The ISS is where we learn how to do this.

UPDATE December 19, 2013 — Here's the video of yesterday's NASA media event about the upcoming spacewalks:

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube. Video source: NASA.

The Big Bad Wolf

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) authored legislation prohibiting NASA from having bilateral contact with China. Image source: Washington Post.

Good riddance.

Invoking Jesus and Watergate felon Charles Colson, Virginia congressman Frank Wolf announced today he will not seek re-election in 2014.

To quote from his press release:

As a follower of Jesus, I am called to work for justice and reconciliation, and to be an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves. I plan to focus my future work on human rights and religious freedom — both domestic and international — as well as matters of the culture and the American family. My passion for these issues has been influenced by the examples of President Ronald Reagan, former Congressmen Jack Kemp and Tony Hall, Chuck Colson, and the life of 18th century Member of Parliament William Wilberforce.

Wolf chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA's budget, which puts him in a powerful position to meddle with government space policy.

In July, Wolf and Alabama congressman Robert Aderholt attempted to interfere in NASA's proposed lease of Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A. SpaceX and Blue Origin submitted bids, but Blue Origin has no current use for the pad. Blue Origin protested the bid process, backed by United Launch Alliance which is a partership of SpaceX competitors Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

During the 2012 election campaign cycle, Wolf received $10,000 from Lockheed Martin and $6,000 from Boeing, according to In the current cycle, he's received $3,000 from Lockheed Martin and $1,000 from Boeing.

To many NASA observers, Wolf is best known for authoring the legislation that prohibits NASA from having contact with the Chinese space agency. Section 1340 of the 2011 Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act:

SEC. 1340. (a) None of the funds made available by this division may be used for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or the Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement, or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company unless such activities are specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of enactment of this division.

(b) The limitation in subsection (a) shall also apply to any funds used to effectuate the hosting of official Chinese visitors at facilities belonging to or utilized by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Wolf has harassed NASA Administrator Charles Bolden over the last four years with demands to explain any incidental contacts the agency had with China.

In March 2012, Wolf sent Bolden a letter asking for an explanation of why other International Space Station agencies had discussed including China.

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube the March 22, 2013 House Appropriations space subcommittee hearing.

This year, on March 22 Wolf grilled Bolden for over two hours about allegations that a NASA contractor had employed a Chinese spy. Wolf himself had originated the allegations which had led to the arrest of Bo Jiang earlier that month. The charges were dismissed, but Jiang did plead guilty to a lesser charge that he had used a NASA laptop to store inappropriate materials — pornography.

Wolf declined to comment, and to my knowledge has never apologized for ruining Mr. Jiang's life.

In 1995, Wolf was “taken in by spurious claims that human fetuses were considered a rare delicacy by many Chinese gourmands.”

It's a long way to January 2015, when we'll find out who succeeds Wolf as chair of the subcommittee. Whomever it is, they'll have to go a long way to top Mr. Wolf as a nutty guardian of OldSpace pork.

Monday, December 16, 2013

WKMG Grills SpaceX

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player
Click the arrow to watch the WKMG-TV Orlando report.

WKMG-TV Channel 6 in Orlando ran a feature tonight on the pending SpaceX lease of Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A.

The story focused on how SpaceX picking up the pace of launches is good for local businesses. WKMG stopped at Grills Seafood in Port Canaveral, a popular stop for locals and tourists.

(Disclaimer ... My wife's daughter works there part-time.)

Nice to see a positive piece looking forward instead of back.

Willkommen, Dream Chaser

An artist's concept of Dream Chaser docked at the International Space Station. Image source: Sierra Nevada Corporation.

Although it skidded off the runway during its first uncrewed free-flight landing test last October, it's been good news since then for the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser.

The German Aerospace Center and OHB System AG announced November 13 that they will finance a study to explore possible uses of the Dream Chaser by European space agencies.

Named DC4EU (Dream Chaser for European Utilization), the project is to explore ways in which the Dream Chaser® can be used to cover German and European requirements for the transportation of payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and for deployment as a manned or unmanned space vehicle allowing German and European scientists to conduct research under weightless conditions over extended periods of time. Given the capability which the Dream Chaser® has for reaching orbits at a substantially greater altitude than the ISS, the study will determine the extent to which it is able to supply satellites or remove decommissioned satellites from their orbits.

The partner in this project is OHB’s Munich-based subsidiary Kayser-Threde, which is developing a payload element for capturing satellites. SNC’s Space Systems located in Louisville, Colorado, will be contributing its expertise for these developments and will work with OHB on a program for the long-term deployment of the Dream Chaser by Europe. This project will complement the Dream Chaser work that SNC is doing with NASA in the United States under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The project participants intend to explore the potential offered by the Dream Chaser® to achieve more intensive scientific utilization of the ISS and opportunities for high-caliber research in weightless conditions in the post-ISS era. Currently, the members of the ISS program are planning to continue operating the ISS up until 2020 with an option of extending this period.

“Looking forward, DC4EU will provide interested researchers and space agencies with a modern successor to the U.S. space shuttle,” says Dr. Detlev Hüser, head of predevelopment of manned space flight at OHB System, going on to say that “a partnership with the United States will allow Germany to continue participating in manned space flight programs even after the decommissioning of the U.S. space shuttle and the ISS.”

DC4EU seeks to systematically maintain and expand research under weightless conditions and manned space flight capabilities. The project initially entails infrastructure design in the Dream Chaser. In a further step, a reference Dream Chaser® mission is to be defined in conjunction with SNC.

With this project, OHB System is tapping a substantially larger area of business in commercial space transportation and manned space flight.

Here in the states, SNC announced today that it had completed its commercial crew development Phase 2 contract with NASA.

Milestones achieved include a systems requirement review, flight simulator development, creation of a vehicle avionics integration laboratory, system definition review, flight control integration laboratory, preliminary design review and the first free-flight test of the Dream Chaser® spacecraft.

The final milestone, free-flight test Milestone 13, was executed Oct. 26, 2013 at Edwards Air Force Base in Edwards, Calif., in conjunction with NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center. The objective of the milestone was to lift the Dream Chaser spacecraft via a carrier vehicle to its designated release conditions then release the spacecraft for an unpiloted free-flight test in order to collect trajectory data during flight.

All expected trajectory and flight data, including the nominal glide slope and other aerodynamic data, were successfully demonstrated and collected in-flight. The Dream Chaser spacecraft’s performance during flight exceeded predictions and requirements. After extensive post-flight analysis by NASA, SNC received the full award value for the milestone. The free-flight test of the flexible, lifting-body vehicle marked the culmination of years of design and scale model testing completed by SNC and NASA’s Langley Research Center on both the SNC Dream Chaser vehicle and the heritage NASA vehicle, the HL-20.

SNC moves on to the next contractual phase, Commercial Crew Integrated Capability.

UPDATE December 16, 2013 6:30 PM has more on Dream Chaser completing CCDev2.

The Demon-Haunted World

Click the arrow to watch Carl Sagan interview by Charlie Rose. Video source: YouTube.

On May 27, 1996, astronomer Carl Sagan appeared on the Charlie Rose show to promote his final book, The Demon-Haunted World.

Sagan passed away less than two years later, the victim of pneumonia while undergoing a bone-marrow transplant to treat his myelodysplasia.

In his opening remarks, Sagan notes that the scientifically illiterate members of Congress decide what are the government's science priorities, and that the Republican majority then controlling Congress had just abolished (in 1995) the Office of Technology Assessment

Here we are seventeen years later, and Congress is more idiotic than ever.

Our political world most certainly is haunted by demons.


Click the arrow to watch the trailer on YouTube.

Warner Bros. released over the weekend the trailer for a new space film titled Interstellar.

The film already has an official web site at

According to that site:

In the future, governments and economies across the globe have collapsed, food is scarce, NASA is no more, and the 20th Century is to blame. A mysterious rip in spacetime opens and it's up to whatever is left of NASA to explore and offer up hope for mankind.

Mainly based on the scientific theories and script treatment of renowned theoretical physicist, Kip Thorne. Interstellar is set to be released in late 2014.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Interstellar chronicles the adventures of a group of explorers who use a wormhole to surpass the limits of human space travel and conquer vast distances on an interstellar voyage. The plot is believed to involve time travel and alternate dimensions, but other details are being kept under wraps.”

If you watch the trailer, there's no mention of this being in the future. The impression (a false one) left with the audience is that space exploration and innovation have come to an end, when the exact opposite is true. I'm sure Elon Musk, Bob Bigelow, Jeff Bezos, David Masten, Jeff Greason, Paul Allen, Richard Branson and many others would appreciate a few minutes of rebuttal time for this pessimistic and inaccurate message.

Anyway, Interstellar is scheduled for release in “late 2014.”

Friday, December 13, 2013

NASA Chooses SpaceX for LC-39A

One day after Blue Origin lost a protest backed by United Launch Alliance, NASA chose SpaceX as its potential partner to lease an agreement for the future use of Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A.

From the official NASA press release:

NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., to begin negotiations on a lease to use and operate historic Launch Complex (LC) 39A at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Permitting use and operation of this valuable national asset by a private-sector, commercial space partner will ensure its continued viability and allow for its continued use in support of U.S. space activities.

The reuse of LC-39A is part of NASA’s work to transform the Kennedy Space Center into a 21st century launch complex capable of supporting both government and commercial users. Kennedy is having success attracting significant private sector interest in its unique facilities. The center is hard at work assembling NASA’s Orion spacecraft and preparing its infrastructure for the Space Launch System rocket, which will launch from LC-39B and take American astronauts into deep space, including to an asteroid and Mars.

NASA made the selection decision Thursday after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied a protest filed against the Agency by Blue Origin LLC on Sept. 13. In its protest, Blue Origin raised concerns about the competitive process NASA was using to try to secure a potential commercial partner or partners to lease and use LC-39A. Blue Origin had argued the language in the Announcement for Proposals (AFP) favored one proposed use of LC-39A over others. The GAO disagreed.

While the GAO protest was underway, NASA was prohibited from selecting a commercial partner for LC-39A from among the proposals submitted in response to the agency's AFP that had been issued on May 23. However, while the GAO considered the protest, NASA continued evaluating the proposals in order to be prepared to make a selection when permitted to do so. After the GAO rendered its decision Thursday in NASA’s favor, the agency completed its evaluation and selection process.

NASA notified all proposers on Friday of its selection decision concerning LC-39A. Further details about NASA’s decision will be provided to each proposer when NASA furnishes the source selection statement to the proposers. In addition, NASA will offer each the opportunity to meet to discuss NASA’s findings related to the proposer’s individual proposal. NASA will release the source selection statement to the public once each proposer has been consulted to ensure that any proprietary information has been appropriately redacted.

NASA will begin working with SpaceX to negotiate the terms of its lease for LC-39A. During those ongoing negotiations, NASA will not be able to discuss details of the pending lease agreement.

More on the story as it develops.

UPDATE December 14, 2013 — News stories on the LC-39A lease:

Bloomberg News “NASA Chooses Musk’s SpaceX to Negotiate Launch Pad Lease”

Florida Today “SpaceX Gets Nod for Use of KSC Site”

Los Angeles Times “NASA Selects SpaceX to Take Over Historic Launchpad” “SpaceX Enter Negotiations to Breathe New Life into Pad 39A”

NBC News “SpaceX Wins NASA's Nod to Take Over Historic Launch Pad 39A”

Orlando Sentinel “NASA Picks SpaceX to Run KSC Launch Complex”

Reuters “NASA Picks SpaceX to Lease Idled Shuttle Launch Pad”

Space News “NASA Negotiating Pad Lease with SpaceX after GAO Rejects Blue Origin Protest”

Spaceflight Now “SpaceX to Begin Negotiations for Shuttle Launch Pad”

Thursday, December 12, 2013

NewSpace 2, OldSpace 0

Don't expect dancing unicorns any time soon in the Pad 39A flame trench. Image source:

The week has seen two defeats dealt to the opponents of NewSpace.

In June, Orbital Sciences sued United Launch Alliance, claiming ULA has illegally prevented the sale of the RD Amross RD-180 engine in the United States by claiming exclusive rights in this country. ULA uses RD-180s on the Lockheed Martin Atlas V. Orbital hoped to acquire the RD-180s for its Antares rockets, which currently use a limited supply of Russian N-1 engines left from their lunar program in the early 1970s.

ULA responded in November, claiming RD Amross can't legally sell to Orbital, and Orbital hasn't proven any actual loss.

The judge rejected ULA's request on December 10 and ordered the parties to prepare for pre-trial conferences in attempt to negotiate a settlement.

The other NewSpace win came today when the Government Accountability Office rejected a Blue Origin protest claiming NASA had improperly conducted its search for a company to lease Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A.

In May, NASA issued an Announcement for Proposals (AFP) seeking potential future commercial users for 39A. NASA was open to either a single user or multi-user concept, so long as it was in the best interests of NASA and the lessor took over responsibiity for the pad.

NASA was already in informal negotiations with SpaceX, when Blue Origin submitted a competing bid. SpaceX intends to use 39A for both the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, with NASA the intended primary customer. Blue Origin claimed it would manage the pad as a multi-user facility, although it admitted it has no need for the pad in the next five years.

What seemed like a clean fight turned dirty in September, when Blue Origin filed a pre-emptive protest with the GAO, claiming NASA was improperly conducting its evaluation of the competing bids.

ULA submitted a letter backing Blue Origin's complaint, and for good measure five U.S. Senators who have benefitted from ULA campaign contributions sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden supporting Blue Origin. Several observers, including me, suspect that ULA recruited Blue Origin to file the complaint as an attempt to thwart SpaceX from ending the ULA launch monopoly here in the United States.

All the below-the-belt punching was for naught, as today the GAO rejected Blue Origin's claims.

In the final analysis, we agree with the agency that the AFP contemplates two possible approaches, but includes no preference for one approach versus another. The approaches are different — and require the presentation of different information to substantiate the plan being offered — but there currently is nothing in the record beyond the protester’s arguments to show that either approach necessarily is better in terms of meeting the agency’s objective of achieving the fullest commercial use of space. Simply stated, that question will be resolved based on the comparative strength of the business cases presented by the offerors.

However, the case at hand only concerns whether the agency’s interpretation of the AFP is reasonable and, based on our discussion above, we conclude that nothing in the language of the AFP favors one approach over the other.

The protest is denied.

In September, SpaceX founder Elon Musk called the Blue Origin complaint a “phony blocking tactic.” His e-mail to Space News stated:

From a SpaceX standpoint, we view [Blue Origin] and [United Launch Alliance’s] action as a phony blocking tactic and an obvious one at that. BO has not yet succeeded in creating a reliable suborbital spacecraft, despite spending over 10 years in development. It is therefore unlikely that they will succeed in developing an orbital vehicle that will meet NASA’s exacting standards in the next 5 years, which is the length of the lease. That said, I can’t say for sure whether [Blue Origin’s] action stems from malice. No such doubt exists about ULA’s motivation.

However, rather than fight this issue, there is an easy way to determine the truth, which is simply to call their bluff. If they do somehow show up in the next 5 years with a vehicle qualified to NASA’s human rating standards that can dock with the Space Station, which is what Pad 39A is meant to do, we will gladly accommodate their needs. Frankly, I think we are more likely to discover unicorns dancing in the flame duct.

After today's ruling, the path seems cleared for SpaceX to lease 39A. And no unicorns will dance in the flame duct any time soon.

Related articles:

Florida Today “Blue Origin Loses Protest Regarding Lease of KSC Pad 39A”

NBC News “Bezos' Blue Origin Rocket Venture Fails to Stop NASA's Launch-Pad Plan”

Parabolic Arc “Blue Origin Loses GAO Appeal Over Pad 39A Bid Process”

Space News “GAO Denies Blue Origin’s Bid Protest of Pad 39A Lease” “GAO Denies Blue Origin's Protest Re NASA's Launch Complex 39A”

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Mad Tea-Party

Click the arrow to watch the hearing on YouTube.

In yet another attempt to seize control of NASA from the executive branch, the House space subcommittee today voted to prohibit NASA from cancelling the Space Launch System, Orion crew vehicle, International Space Station, or the James Webb Space Telescope unless Congress approves it in advance.

Dan Leone of Space News reports:

Should the bill become law, NASA would lose the ability to unilaterally terminate these programs — something federal agencies are typically allowed to do. It would also give these programs leeway to tap into the so-called termination liability funds that contractors set aside to cover any expenses that arise if the government cancels their programs. For the missions covered under H.R. 3625, these set-asides total hundreds of millions of dollars, which could be used for development if the bill passes.

The article also quotes recently departed NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, who was speaking today at the annual COMSTAC meeting:

“We should not be debating whether or not we should have the ability to terminate a program that is not working in a cost-plus environment,” former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver told COMSTAC ... The ability to cancel a program for convenience is essential to protecting the government against runaway cost increases in big development programs, she said.

Garver referred to a government contracting practice called cost-plus. According to Wikipedia, “a contractor is paid for all of its allowed expenses to a set limit plus additional payment to allow for a profit.”

Cost-plus is why so many NASA contracts go over budget and fall behind schedule. One prime example is Constellation. Years behind schedule and billions over budget, the Government Accountability Agency in August 2009 concluded that Constellation lacked “a sound business case.”

To quote from the introductory page:

While the agency has already obligated more than $10 billion in contracts, at this point NASA does not know how much Ares I and Orion will ultimately cost, and will not know until technical and design challenges have been addressed.

The Obama administration proposed cancelling Constellation in the Fiscal Year 2011 budget. Congress rebelled, because Constellation brought pork to the districts and states of many of those representatives on the House and Senate space subcommittees.

Congress agreed to cancel Constellation, but replaced it with a new pork program called Space Launch System — known as Senate Launch System to its critics. Congress ordered NASA to use existing Space Shuttle and Constellation contractors rather than going out to competitive bid, and ordered NASA to use the Orion capsule atop the SLS.

To this date, Congress still hasn't told NASA what it's supposed to do with SLS.

The JWST also suffered massive cost overruns, but it's being built in Maryland. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) happens to chair the Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA funding, so she made sure JWST wasn't cancelled. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) amended H.R. 3625 to include JWST.

Today's action was a pre-emptive attack to prevent the Obama or other future administration from attempting to cancel Congressional pork.

It was passed by a voice vote, so there's no record of who actually voted yea or nay.

Notably missing from today's list of House space subcommittee priorities were NASA's commercial cargo and crew programs. These critical programs deliver cargo to the ISS, and are developing crew vehicles so NASA no longer has to rely on Russia for space taxi services. Apparently those programs don't deliver enough pork to the districts of those on the House and Senate space subcommittees, so they're not protected. A November Office of Inspector General report concluded that Congress had cut the commercial crew program's funding by 62% over the last three years from the Obama administration's requests.

H.R. 3625 has a long way to go before it becomes law. It's unclear how other committees in both congressional chambers will react to this attempt to violate government contract protocol. It's possible they may think it's a great idea and throw a sensible business practice out the window in the name of bipartisan porkery. The bill could be merged with more vital legislation to ensure President Obama doesn't veto it.

In any case, it's just another reminder of how much today's Congress reminds us of the Mad Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland.

The Mad Tea Party ... or the House Space Subcommittee?

UPDATE December 12, 2013 — I neglected to include links above to the proposed legislation:

H.R. 3625 as proposed by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL)

The amendment as introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) on behalf of Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Posey Goes ePostal

Space Coast Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL). Image source: Wikipedia.

I received in e-mail today an unrequested "Space E-Newsletter" from Space Coast congressional representative Bill Posey.

It's not online anywhere I can find, and it's very lengthy, so I won't post the entire missive here. If you want the newsletter, e-mail me at and I'll forward it to you.

But I will give you the highlights.

The letter begins:

These are exciting times for our District, for NASA and man’s continued efforts to explore the cosmos with his instruments and his footsteps. This year alone, nine missions have been launched from our backyard at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral by United Launch Alliance and Space-X. Orion is now at KSC and is being prepared for it’s fall 2014 launch.

There are some exciting space-related topics that I would like to share with you in this edition of my Space E-Newsletter, including my legislation to help keep America the leader in Space, an update on some new commercial space launch initiatives, the threat of a natural or man-made Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) and what I am doing about it, and finally, my thoughts on where NASA should set its sights and why.

EMPs?! Really?!

But this is the man who claims that China wants a military base on the Moon, so I guess for him EMPs are a natural extension of this fantasy.

Here's the entire text of his EMP section:

Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) Defense and the SHIELD Act

When a hurricane, a strong thunderstorm or a downed power line leaves us in the dark we are reminded of how important electricity is to our daily lives. Fortunately, no one has yet experienced a national power outage, or the devastation it would cause — not just the loss of lighting, but the loss of refrigeration, of air traffic control and of life-sustaining hospital equipment. However, our power grid could suffer just such a widespread failure if it were struck by a powerful Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP), either from a nuclear missile detonated high above our country by a rogue nation, or from a powerful, naturally occurring solar flare.

Just as the Earth has weather that we must contend with, the Sun has weather too, with activity that comes in the form of solar prominences and even storms. The most violent solar storm on record occurred in 1859 and completely shut down the modern communications of the day — the telegraph. Today, experts believe a solar storm of that magnitude could literally plunge large parts of Earth into darkness for an extended period of time.

To help protect our country from this, Congressman Posey has co-sponsored The SHIELD Act (the “Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act”), H.R. 2417, introduced by Congressman Trent Franks. The SHIELD Act is bipartisan legislation that encourages cooperation between industry and government in the development and implementation of standards and processes that are necessary to protect our electric grid from a major EMP event. The SHIELD Act also requires that standards be developed within six months of enactment, ensuring a faster timeline of protection. Another solar storm may be just around the corner. It is important to prepare now so that we can defend against potentially serious adverse effects.

Click here for more information about H.R. 2417. The bill was referred on June 21 to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, and has gone nowhere. The bill actually has 24 co-sponsors, not just Posey. As for H.R. 2417 being “bipartisan legislation” as Posey claims, the bill's sponsor and 23 of the 24 co-sponsors are Republicans. The lone Democrat is Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY). An old “bipartisan” trick played by both sides.

Elsewhere in the newsletter ...

Posey states he has created a congressional staffer group called Space Advocates to discuss space policy. Just which staffers of which partisan stripe are included isn't mentioned.

Posey's Team Organizes Weekly Space Advocates Group

As Congressional schedules and legislative agendas are impacted by the latest headlines, attention to important NASA and space-related issues could be pushed to the back burner in congressional offices. Recognizing this challenge, Rep. Posey directed his Washington staff to organized a group on Capitol Hill unabashedly called “Space Advocates”. Space Advocates currently involves about 70 Congressional staffers working on NASA and space-related issues for their Representatives. Space Advocates regularly meets to discuss timely space-related challenges, opportunities and legislation with the stated goal of educating staff and promoting U.S. space policy.

Meeting almost a dozen times so far this year, the Space Advocates have helped lead the discussion in a number of areas — in one instance, hosting panel discussions on NASA’s proposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission — bringing in experts from around the country to educate the staffers who advise their Members of Congress. Leading U.S. space companies have also provided updates at Space Advocate meetings.

In an era of shrinking budgets and attention-grabbing headlines, NASA and the commercial space industry need help to insure their issues maintain the awareness on Capitol Hill that they deserve. Rep. Posey’s team in Washington is working hard to make sure that happens through the work of the Space Advocates. Many of us recall that the space station only survived by one vote in the early 1990's. Space advocates makes sure that we are on offense to avoid close calls in the future.

To his credit, unlike many of his colleagues on the House Space Subcommittee Posey seems more open-minded to growing a private space sector here in the U.S.

The rapidly growing commercial space sector could well be the most historically significant development of the modern era, yet the ability of American companies to capture this market may be hampered if government regulations stand in their way. That is why Congressman Posey and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy recently introduced the Suborbital and Orbital Advancement and Regulatory Streamlining (“SOARS”) Act, H.R 3038. Its purpose is to update the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) licensing process for commercial space launch companies and establish demonstration projects for the use of experimental aircraft in support of those launch activities.

Posey also details a recent meeting with Bigelow Aerospace representatives.

Rep. Posey Invites Company to Share Moon Base Plan

Rep. Posey introduced bipartisan legislation called “the REAL Space Act” (H.R. 1446) which puts NASA on a path to return to the Moon by 2022. A private company, Bigelow Aerospace, may partner with NASA to help make that happen.

Congressman Posey recently met with Bigelow Aerospace representatives to get a better understanding of the company’s plans to establish a permanent base on the Moon within a decade.

A model of Bigelow Aerospace inflatable habitat modules on the lunar surface. Image source: Bigelow Aerospace /

Bigelow Aerospace has been constructing outer space habitats since 1999. Two of their test modules have been in orbit since 2007.

Their long-range plan for a lunar base begins with the launch and assembly of a two-module, 90-foot-long space station in Earth orbit by 2018. Rockets will be attached to the structure in 2021 to move the station to an orbit around the Moon. At that point, a third Bigelow habitat will launch from Earth and then be remotely piloted down to the lunar surface by astronauts in the orbiting space station.

Once they confirm that it is performing as designed, four astronauts will descend from the orbiting space station to the lunar base where they will begin work.

Bigelow is also working with another firm to develop a ‘Lunar Lander’. It will provide the means to easily move back and forth between their space station and the habitat on the Moon. The Bigelow Lunar Lander will leverage a simplified NASA design, flying astronauts from 60 miles above the Moon down to the surface.

Bigelow hopes to see four astronauts begin full-time occupancy of their lunar habitat by 2023. Their hope is to then work with NASA to develop the technologies and techniques needed for mankind’s next ‘giant leap’ in manned space exploration — MARS!

The newsletter includes an essay by Posey supporting a NASA human spaceflight mission to Mars — but doesn't say how he'd pay for it, or explain how the crew would survive the potentially lethal doses of radiation during the probable three-year mission. Posey dismisses the Obama administration's Asteroid Initiative which would cost far less than a Mars program. He writes:

The asteroid plan is also riddled with unprecedented technical challenges which will be very expensive to solve.

And a Mars mission differs ... how?!

Nor does he tell us why humans should go when NASA robotic rovers such as Curiosity are exploring Mars just fine.

I'm pretty sure that Rep. Posey's staff reads this blog. (Hello.) Please tell your boss that any NASA human spaceflight program — Moon, asteroid or Mars — will be hideously expensive. In current dollars, the 1960s Apollo program cost $150 billion. I think we'd all agree that Congress won't spend that kind of money today, especially when we have robotic craft that will do it much more cheaply without risking human lives.

The NASA model of the 1960s, which perpetuates to this day, is very obsolete. NASA was meant to be an aerospace research and development agency. It changed when President Kennedy proposed the human lunar program.

That decision twisted NASA into a giant pork program that is politically and fiscally unsustainable. Elected officials in Congress for decades have babbled about resurrecting Apollo, but never put enough money behind it.

Only enough to protect the interests of their districts and states, and the interests of the aerospace companies that contribute to their re-election campaigns.

If not for the perceived Cold War threat from the Soviet Union, an American human spaceflight program never would have evolved as it did. It wasn't the logical way to do it.

I refer you to this 1961 article by General Electric CEO Ralph Cordiner, a prominent Republican of his time who realized the consequence of a bloated government space program. Mr. Cordiner has been cited by recently departed NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver — a prominent Democrat of her time.

So this shouldn't be a partisan issue. It should be a logical issue.

The logical way to proceed is for NASA to evolve capabilities that can be transferred to the private sector, which can do it far more effectively and cheaply, free of government porking.

A notional image of a SpaceX Dragon landing on Mars. Image source:

The roles should be reversed from what they are now. Bob Bigelow and NASA Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier suggested during a May teleconference that NASA's future role should be as a think-tank for the private sector. If Bigelow, SpaceX or some other NewSpacer needs a solution to a problem ... they can seek guidance from NASA.

That's why the commercial cargo program, and now commercial crew, have succeeded far beyond what was anticipated. NASA sets the milestones, offers advice, walks alongside the private company — but in the end, the company finds its own path to achieve the milestone.

You don't like the Asteroid Initiative? That's your perogative. But it exists only because Congress foisted the Space Launch System program upon NASA in 2010, after the failure of the Constellation program. NASA didn't ask for SLS. You made them do it.

But you didn't tell them what to do with it.

And you, the members of Congress, still haven't done so.

You can pass all the unfunded bills you want ordering NASA to study human lunar and Martian missions. They're a waste of money unless you the Congress put hundreds of billions of dollars behind it.

Which you won't.

So be honest with us, the taxpayers and your constituents, and admit that human deep-space missions in the current fiscal environment are unsustainable. Put the money into NewSpace where it belongs. Allow them to go to the Moon, to asteroids, and one day to Mars.

Humanity will get there a lot sooner once Congress gets out of the way.

Monday, December 9, 2013


Click the arrow to watch the AGU Mars presentation on YouTube. Video source: American Geophysical Union.

NASA issued a lengthy press release today summarizing Mars Science Laboratory findings by the Curiosity Rover.

The findings were announced at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco.

As of this posting (6:30 PM EST), much of the mainstream media seems to have ignored the announcements, although Alan Boyle of NBC News and Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post have already posted stories. Nothing on the home pages of,, or Nothing at or simply reprinted a story from

Florida Today reprints a story by the parent paper USA Today. Both are based in the same Melbourne, Florida headquarters.

The media stories focus on the conclusion that an ancient Martian lakebed billions of years ago may have had conditions that would support microbial life.

The six research articles released today are available online with a subscription to Science magazine.

Gwynne Shotwell Wins Bumper Award

SpaceX President and CEO Gwynne Shotwell. Image source: Wikipedia.

The Florida Space Development Council announced today that SpaceX President and CEO Gwynne Shotwell has received their 2013 Bumper Award.

FSDC is a chapter of the National Space Society. In January, the chapter changed its name from NSS Florida Space Coast chapter to FSDC.

According to the FSDC web site, “The Bumper Award, named after the first rocket launched from Florida (on July 24, 1950), was originally sponsored by the Florida Space Business Roundtable, a space industry advocacy group that was dissolved in 2003.” FSDC revived the award this year.

Here is the FSDC press release.

Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), has been named the 2013 winner of the Florida Space Development Council (FSDC) Bumper Award. Named after the first rocket launched from Florida (on July 24, 1950), the Bumper Award recognizes individuals or organizations that have had the greatest positive impact on Florida's space industry, or Floridians who have had the greatest impact nationally.

“Under Gwynne Shotwell's leadership, SpaceX has become a force for positive change at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, disrupting the status quo for NASA, Air Force, and the commercial launch industry,” said FSDC President Laura Seward. “SpaceX's growing manifest and its push for new launch sites has also challenged Florida's state and local governments to more aggressively support the space industry.”

The Bumper Award will be formally presented to Ms. Shotwell by the FSDC Board and Florida Senator Thad Altman, chairman of the Senate's Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security.

“SpaceX's successful commercial satellite launch last week positions the company to significantly improve Florida's position in the global launch industry,” said Senator Altman. “This would not have been possible without the team of engineers and technicians assembled and led by Ms. Shotwell.”

A panel of FSDC members and its board of directors selected Ms. Shotwell after a monthlong nomination and review process that resulted in three other finalists, including (in alphabetical order) Space Florida President Frank DiBello, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University President John Johnson, and Will Trafton, chairman of the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee.

The Bumper was a modified German V-2 rocket with a U.S. WAC Corporal upper stage (built by Douglas Aircraft Co.). After a series of Bumper test launches at New Mexico's White Sands Proving Grounds in 1948 and 1949, Bumper-8 became the first rocket launched at what would become the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. Bumper was our nation’s first multi-stage liquid engine rocket and it led to the development of a series of other space launch vehicles.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

SpaceX Makes Its Point

Click the arrow to watch the webcast of the SpaceX SES-8 launch. Video source: SpaceX via Megneous YouTube channel.

“SpaceX Makes Its Point” is the headline this morning on Page 1 of the print edition of Florida Today.

The online version by reporter James Dean details yet another triumph for this 21st Century launch company.

SpaceX had already proven it could launch cargo to the International Space Station.

On Tuesday, the company achieved another milestone when its upgraded Falcon 9 rocket deployed its first commercial communications satellite into an orbit high above Earth, 33 minutes after a beautiful twilight liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

It was the third attempt in nine days to launch the broadcasting satellite for Luxembourg-based SES, one of the world’s largest satellite operators, but ultimately it signaled SpaceX’s readiness to take on a $2.4 billion market dominated by international competitors.

“The successful insertion of the SES-8 satellite confirms the upgraded Falcon 9 launch vehicle delivers to the industry’s highest performance standards,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a statement.

In the last three years that SpaceX has been launching from the Cape, I've heard all sorts of vicious false rumors spread to disparage SpaceX. A recent one claimed that President Barack Obama secretly owns SpaceX stock. (That came from a ULA employee.)

The rumor-mongering is spread by people who know they can't compete with SpaceX.

Another victory for NewSpace.

UPDATE December 4, 2013 — Bloomberg TV poses the question, “Is SpaceX a threat to Boeing and Lockheed?”

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube. Video source: Bloomberg TV.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Congress Deflates, Bigelow Inflates

An artist's concept of the proposed Bigelow Olympus habitat. Image source: Bloomberg Businessweek.

A November 27 article on the Space News web site demonstrates yet again why the biggest obstacle to humanity in space is Congress.

Titled “U.S. Intellectual Property Rules Hinder Space Station Research,” Debra Werner writes that the 2010 Space Act passed by Congress included language that hinders the ability of CASIS to attract commercial research to the International Space Station.

At the root of the problem is legislation that designated part of the space station a U.S. National Laboratory. In the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, the U.S. Congress directed the space agency to create a cooperative agreement with a nonprofit organization to manage the space station’s National Laboratory. Cooperative agreements established by federal agencies include standard, U.S. government-wide terms and conditions, including requirements for intellectual property rights, said Courtney Graham, NASA associate general council for commercial and intellectual property law. “If you look at any of the cooperative agreements from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate or any other part of NASA, you’ll see the same type of terms and conditions,” Graham said.

In addition, since NASA is a title-taking agency, any large contractor that wants to retain title to an invention developed through the use of a NASA facility has to submit a waiver. If not, the space agency automatically acquires a license for government use of the invention.

Organizations routinely submit requests for NASA to waive that title-taking authority. NASA reviews the waiver and “pretty much always says, ‘Sure you can have rights to your invention,’” Graham said. That process is required by all NASA cooperative agreements. It is in all NASA contracts and funded Space Act Agreements as well, Graham said.

According to the article, NASA and CASIS have requested legislation that would “give the NASA administrator authority to waive the license to any inventions made during scientific utilization of the national laboratory that is unrelated to NASA work if reservation of the license 'would substantially inhibit the commercialization of an invention.'”

The language is in the Senate's version of the 2013 NASA authorization bill, but as with pretty much everything else in Congress these days it too is stalled and unlikely to pass this year.

On November 26, I wrote a blog article titled “What is NewSpace?” which attempted to delineate the differences between OldSpace and NewSpace. Some online pundits have claimed there is no difference.

Well, here's a big one.

Bigelow Aerospace, which plans to launch inflatable habitats into low Earth orbit in 2017, would offer laboratories that are not regulated by Congressional intellectual property right laws. If you do research on a Bigelow habitat ... it's yours.

Click the arrow to watch a January 2013 interview with Robert Bigelow. You may be subjected to an ad first. Video source: Bloomberg Businessweek.

When operational circa 2017, customers will fly to the Bigelow habitats on the same commercial crew vehicles that could transport NASA astronauts to the ISS — the SpaceX Dragon or the Boeing CST-100. The Dragon currently delivers cargo to the ISS, so presumably it could deliver to Bigelow as well.

Bigelow's expandable systems are based on a 1990s NASA technology called TransHab, which was foreseen as an inflatable module that could be used as ISS crew quarters, and possibly one day for Moon or Mars missions. The 2000 Space Act ended TransHab, reportedly to force NASA to focus on completing ISS construction with existing technology. At that point, the ISS was many years behind its originally envisioned completion date.

The 2000 legislation carved out an exception for “leasing or otherwise using a commercially provided inflatable habitation module.”

That opened the door for Bob Bigelow.

From a May 2, 2013 Bloomberg Businessweek article:

Congress ... was already moving to cancel funding for the program when Bigelow called to arrange a visit to the TransHab team at Johnson Space Center. NASA administrator Daniel Goldin suggested rescuing the technology by offering it for development to a consortium of aerospace companies, including Mitsubishi, plus Bigelow, who attended meetings as an independent investor. “I had no employees at that time. I was just there as me,” he says. When the corporations proved reluctant to put their own money into the program, the deal collapsed. But Bigelow was less interested in being a cost-plus contractor of the old school than in owning a technology he believed represented the future of space travel. So he decided to pursue the expandable habitat technology alone, with or without NASA’s permission. He went back to Nevada and, in April 1999, quietly formed a new company: Bigelow Aerospace. Then he bought 50 acres of land in an industrial park in North Las Vegas, and set a handful of engineers to work on figuring out how to build an inflatable house that could fly in space.

But in 2002, NASA finally canceled the TransHab project, and Bigelow applied to license the technology, in exchange for an initial $400,000 fee and a commitment for a far more significant sum — what he now says was “tens of millions” of dollars — into a development program. Under the terms of the agreement, Bigelow was able to bring many members of the original TransHab team to Las Vegas, including William Schneider, the veteran engineer, by that time already retired from NASA to teach, who had overseen the agency’s project from the start.

Bob Bigelow's investment is the key to opening space to the private sector.

Yes, it's worthless without the vehicles to transport people. But those are coming. They would be here sooner, except Congress cut the commercial crew funding 62% over the last three years from the Obama administration's funding request. This pushed back commercial crew's projected operational date from 2015 to 2017.

The House of Representatives hopes to cut this year's Obama administration request by 40%, extending U.S. reliance on Russia for ISS transportation to at least 2018.

Despite Congressional ineptitude, sooner or later a private crew vehicle will deliver customers to a private habitat in Earth orbit.

When that happens, Congress is no longer relevant to human spaceflight.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What is NewSpace?

SpaceX founder Elon Musk on the cover of the October 24, 2013 issue of The Atlantic.

What is NewSpace?

Over the weekend, the Washington Post published a lengthy article by Joel Achenbach titled, “Which Way to Space?” The article was primarily a review of the various NewSpace companies such as SpaceX, but also attempted to define the differences between NewSpace and OldSpace:

Old Space (and this is still the dreamers talking) is slow, bureaucratic, government-directed, completely top-down. Old Space is NASA, cautious and halting, supervising every project down to the last thousand-dollar widget. Old Space is Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman. Old Space coasts on the glory of the Apollo era and isn’t entirely sure what to do next.

New Space is the opposite of all that. It’s wild. It’s commercial, bootstrapping, imaginative, right up to the point of being (and this is no longer the dreamers talking) delusional.

Many of the New Space enterprises are still in the PowerPoint stage, with business models built around spaceships that haven’t yet gone to space. A bold attitude and good marketing aren’t enough to put a vehicle into orbit. The skeptics among the Old Space people will say to the upstarts: Where’s your rocket? How many times have you launched? Can you deliver reliably? Repeatedly? Safely? We put a man on the moon — what have you done?

Not everyone believes in the OldSpace/NewSpace paradigm.

Keith Cowing of NASA Watch says “it's just name calling”:

This “New Space” Vs “Old Space” designation is just a semantic ploy used by people who want NASA money for their company or pet idea that is currently being given to another company/project. You have to convince NASA that you are worthy of funding so you make the status quo look like dinosaurs. Market analysis, engineering excellence, and sound investment never seem to be important to the New Spacers. Being “new” and not “old” is, so it would seem. People who try and pigeon hole companies as being either “Old Space“ or “New Space” into one category or another are missing what is really going on.

If you've read my blog, you know I'm a firm believer that the paradigm exists, and here's why.

Mr. Cowing is mistaken if he thinks NewSpace is about NASA. It's not.

It's about a way of going about your business.

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and ATK are infamous for throwing around their weight in the halls of Congress. ranks Boeing as one of their “heavy hitters,” having contributed $3.4 million in campaign contributions and spent $15.6 million on lobbying in 2012. During the same year, Lockheed Martin (another heavy hitter) spent $4.0 million in campaign contributions and $15.3 million on lobbying. ATK during that period spent $401,000 in campaign contributions and $1.6 million on lobbying.

These companies routinely engage in monopolistic business practices. Having developed cozy relationships with Congress, the military and NASA over the decades, they were able to convince Congress to grant them monopoly consortia.

The orbiter Endeavour in Orbiter Processing Facility 2 in May 2010. The orbiters were managed by United Space Alliance. Image source: NASA.

United Space Alliance was created in 1995 by Boeing and Lockheed Martin to become the primary contractor for running NASA's Space Shuttle program. At its height in 2008 (a presidential election year), USA spent $153,900 in campaign contributiions and $679,000 on lobbying — above and beyond what Boeing and Lockheed Martin spent as individual companies. In 2007, they spent $979,000 on lobbying.

In 2006, the Bush administration granted a legal monopoly to United Launch Alliance, another Boeing/LockMart partnership. According to an October 4, 2006 Washington Post article, the Federal Trade Commission acknowledged the deal would “probably lead to higher prices and lower quality.”

The Defense Department has expressed concerns that with only a few rocket launches each year, one of the two companies could have been pushed out of business. Loath to be dependent on one type of rocket, the Defense Department argued for the joint venture, to be known as the United Launch Alliance.

Under the agreement, both Boeing's Delta and Lockheed's Atlas rockets will still be produced. The companies will consolidate production at Boeing's Decatur, Ala., facility, while Lockheed's Denver office will serve as the headquarters and house the engineering and administrative functions. Some jobs will be eliminated.

Quality may not have diminished, but the monopoly did cause commercial satellite launch services to flee overseas. The last time a commercial satellite launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was November 23, 2009. Intelsat 14 launched on an Atlas V from LC-41.

This is one fundamental difference between OldSpace and NewSpace.

I can't think of a single NewSpace company that loves to play Monopoly.

OldSpace companies have tried to keep the launch business for themselves. Most recently, ULA has tried to block Orbital Sciences from acquiring RD-180 engines for its Antares. ULA has an exclusivity agreement in the United States with supplier RD Amross.

In 2005, fledgling SpaceX sued to block the formation of ULA. The lawsuit was dismissed in May 2006. The judge noted that at the time SpaceX had failed to successfully launch a Falcon 1, the predecessor of today's Falcon 9.

September 14, 2011 ... Members of Congress announce the Space Launch System design. NASA administrator Charlie Bolden was relegated to a minor role in the event.

In 2010, as NASA's Constellation program was about to be cancelled, Congress scrambled to protect the OldSpace contractors by devising the Space Launch System. Critics have dubbed it the Senate Launch System. Congress ordered NASA to “utilize existing contracts, investments, workforce, industrial base, and capabilities from the Space Shuttle and Orion and Ares 1 projects.” That meant protecting Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and ATK.

OldSpace hates competition. NewSpace welcomes it.

NASA's commercial cargo and crew programs were designed from inception to be competitive.

As I wrote last March, the idea for these programs came from the Bush-appointed Aldridge Commission. They cited an existing NASA program called the Centennial Challenge, which gave cash prizes for “advancement of space or aeronautical technologies,” and suggested that “NASA should expand its Centennial prize program to encourage entrepreneurs and risk-takers to undertake major space missions.”

The commission's report called for “the breaking down of barriers to commercial and entrepreneurial activities in space, as well as a cultural shift towards encouraging and incentivizing more private sector business in space. Such a change in both perspective and posture is essential if we are to develop a broad-based, societal change in space business.”

That statement implied the commission acknowledged the sclerotic nature of OldSpace, and felt injecting competition was the way to do it.

NewSpace companies, for the most part, are motivated by the competition, although recently one NewSpace company showed it was willing to partner with OldSpace to defeat a NewSpace competitor.

In May 2013, NASA solicited proposals for commercial companies to use Kennedy Space Center's venerable Pad 39A. I wrote at the time that I was aware of SpaceX interest in the pad, but only at the last minute did Blue Origin step forward with its own proposal.

Even though NASA had not yet announced a decision, in September 2013 Blue Origin filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office, alleging that NASA had given an unfair advantage to SpaceX. The complaint was backed by United Launch Alliance and various senators who have enjoyed campaign contributions from OldSpace companies.

This tactic delayed the Pad 39A lease decision to at least January 1.

It's a typical OldSpace stalling tactic. According to Development of the Space Shuttle 1972-1981, after NASA awarded the solid rocket booster contract in late 1973 to Morton Thiokol (the ancestor of today's ATK), Lockheed Martin filed an appeal with the GAO. That delayed the final contract award six months; LockMart lost.

But that wasn't the end of the appeal. Senators John Stennis (D-MS) and Russell Long (D-LA) asked for another review and a further delay, because they wanted Lockheed plants in their states. Their appeal was ineffective, because the chair of their space committee, Frank Moss (D-UT), represented the state that had the Thiokol plant.

In 1971, after Rocketdyne won the Space Shuttle Main Engine contract, Pratt and Whitney filed an appeal with the GAO. It took eight months to resolve. Pratt and Whitney lost.

The two companies, ironically, merged in 2005.

Many NewSpace companies have no interest in NASA subsidies, although the government one day might be a customer.

Two companies are preparing for suborbital adventure tourism flights. Virgin Galactic plans tourist flights out of New Mexico's Spaceport America. XCOR has a different business model, hoping to eventually sell their Lynx spaceplanes to operators around the world.

Stratolaunch plans to fly from a runway such as KSC's former Shuttle Landing Facility by the end of the decade. Video source: Stratolaunch.

Stratolaunch is building the world's biggest airplane, planning horizontal launches of payloads into orbit. They're partnered with Orbital Sciences, which would provide the booster.

The Golden Spike Company is run by former NASA executives, but doesn't receive NASA subsidies. They plan human lunar missions using private sector technology that should be available by the end of the decade.

Bigelow Aerospace began when its founder, Bob Bigelow, licensed NASA's defunct TransHab technology for expandable habitats. NASA has acquired a test version called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) for deployment at the ISS in 2015. NASA and Bigelow also have an agreement to study the commercial space model for cislunar transportation — but no money is changing hands.

SpaceX itself is developing a heavy-lift rocket called the Falcon Heavy, which would be the most powerful rocket on the planet and second most-powerful in history, behind the Saturn V. The Falcon Heavy is being developed with 100% private funds, not one penny from the government.

OldSpace and NewSpace represent two very different cultures. One likes to bully and bribe and stifle competition. The other, for the most part, embraces competition and punches above the belt.

Perhaps one day some of the NewSpace companies will become bloated and sclerotic, throwing around their ample girth in the halls of Congress. But that day is far in the future, a future where human access to space will be far more common thanks to the refreshing whiff of competition breezing through the aerospace industry.

I didn't want to overlook what NewSpace companies have spent on campaign contributions and lobbying, just so you know how they compare to the OldSpace players.

According to, SpaceX spent $194,000 on campaign contributions in 2012. No money was spent on lobbying in 2011 or 2012, although a December 2011 reporting SpaceX hired two former Republicans senators as lobbyists claimed SpaceX spent $500,000 on lobbying earlier in the year.

Orbital Sciences, the other commercial cargo company, spent $219,000 on campaign contributions in 2012 and $355,000 on lobbying.

Sierra Nevada Corp., competing with SpaceX and Boeing for the commercial crew contract, spent $271,000 on campaign contributions in 2012 and $750,000 on lobbying.

Bigelow Aerospace has made no corporate campaign contributions since 2008, according to

Thursday, November 21, 2013

SpaceX on Deck

Click the arrow to watch the launch of the “next generation” Falcon 9 on September 29, 2013 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Video source: SpaceX.

The first launch of the upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral is scheduled for Monday November 25 at 5:37 PM EST.

The payload is the SES-8 communications satellite, owned by SES S.A. but built by Orbital Sciences. SES is based in Luxembourg but operates commercial satellites for worldwide customers.

This will be the first commercial satellite launched from the Space Coast since November 23, 2009. Intelsat 14 launched on an Atlas V from LC-41.

Commercial satellite launches have gone overseas in recent years due to the monopoly granted to United Launch Alliance in 2006. The monopoly drove up prices as expected, so commercial business went overseas while ULA flew government payloads. SpaceX has challenged that monopoly with a new business model leading to lower prices.

SpaceX has a second commercial payload, Thaicom 6, scheduled in December for the Thailand-based Thaicom Public Limited Company.

The SpaceX launch manifest for 2014 lists six commercial satellite launches from the Cape, along with three commercial cargo deliveries to the International Space Station for NASA and its first U.S. Air Force payload.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex issued the below press release yesterday with viewing locations for Monday evening's launch.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Offers Best Public Viewing
of SpaceX Rocket Launch at Dusk on Nov. 25

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Nov. 20, 2013) – KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – As the sun sets in the west, a Falcon 9 rocket will light up skies on the east coast during the dramatic SpaceX liftoff scheduled for Monday, Nov. 25. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex guests may view the dusk launch from the Apollo/Saturn V Center, the closest possible public viewing area, or special areas at the Visitor Complex.

The rocket is scheduled to blast off from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 5:37 p.m. EST, carrying an SES 8 satellite.

Guests can experience the powerful sights and sounds of the rocket at special viewing available to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex guests from the Apollo/Saturn V Center, located within Kennedy Space Center, for $20 plus the cost of admission. Admission to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is $50 plus tax for adults and $40 plus tax for children 3-11. Bus boarding for the Apollo/Saturn V Center begins at 3 p.m.

Located along the Banana River just a few miles from the launch pad, the Apollo/Saturn V viewing area offers the closest public viewing opportunity in Brevard County. This viewing area will feature live launch countdown commentary.

Launch viewing is also available from Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and is included in regular admission, featuring live mission control commentary.

The Falcon 9 rocket will fly with upgraded Merlin 1D engines, stretched fuel tanks and a payload fairing. The SES 8 satellite will provide Ku-band and Ka-band direct-to-home broadcasting and network services over the Asia-Pacific region.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call 877-313-2610 and visit